• decision-making;
  • participation;
  • patient–physician relationships;
  • trust


Objective  Does trust in physicians aid or hinder patient autonomy? We examine the relationship between trust in the recipient's doctor, and desire for a participative role in decisions about medical treatment.

Design  We conducted a cross-sectional survey in an urban Canadian teaching hospital.

Setting and participants  A total of 606 respondents in three clinics (breast cancer, prostate cancer, fracture) completed questionnaires.

Variables studied  The instrument included the Problem Solving Decision Making (PSDM) Scale, which used two vignettes (current health condition, chest pain) to categorize respondents by preferred role, and the Trust-in-Physician Scale.

Results  Few respondents preferred an autonomous role (2.9% for the current health condition vignette and 1.2% for the chest pain vignette); most preferred shared decision-making (DM) (67.3% current health condition; 48.7% chest pain) or a passive role (29.6% current health condition; 50.1% chest pain). Trust-in-physician yielded 6.3% with blind trust, 36.1% with high trust, 48.6% moderate trust and 9.0% low trust. As hypothesized, autonomous patients had relatively low levels of trust, passive respondents were more likely to have blind trust, while shared respondents had high but not excessive trust. Trust had a significant influence on preferred role even after controlling for the demographic factors such as sex, age and education.

Conclusions  Very few respondents wish an autonomous role; those who do tend to have lower trust in their providers. Familiarity with a clinical condition increases desire for a shared (as opposed to passive) role. Shared DM often accompanies, and may require, a trusting patient–physician relationship.